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Beating cancer one step at a time
White Geometry - Winter Moon by Melusina Parkin. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Beating cancer one step at a time

Cancer is a big killer of Australians, yet a person has much in their own control in preventing many of these cases of cancer. Being physically activity is one of them and is now recognised as a potent ‘cancer-preventing’ habit.

Regular physical activity can reap big rewards in cutting a person’s risk of cancer with estimates of a 20 to 40% lower risk of colon and post-menopausal breast cancer and a potential benefit in lowering prostate cancer risk too. Being active also comes with the added bonus of improving fitness, keeping bones healthy, keeping body weight in check and reducing stress. Wins all around.

So how much physical activity is enough? All physical activity is beneficial, but for cancer prevention the scientific evidence suggests up to one hour of moderate activity or 30 minutes of vigorous activity each day is likely the best. Moderate activity is anything that causes a slight, but noticeable rise in breathing or heart rate such as brisk walking, medium-paced swimming or recreational cycling. Examples of vigorous activity include running, aerobics, squash, fast cycling and football.

A fascinating field of research is now looking at the role that physical activity can play in people already diagnosed with cancer. Several research studies are now linking regular physical activity after a cancer diagnosis with lower rates of cancer-related mortality, particularly from breast and colorectal cancer.

One study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2006 found that women who had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer and undertook the equivalent of a brisk walk for one hour per day had a 61 percent lower risk of dying from their cancer compared to inactive persons. Importantly, how active the women were before diagnosis of cancer had no effect on their chance of dying after diagnosis which shows that getting more active after a cancer diagnosis is likely beneficial.

Another research study from the same journal, involving people with advanced colorectal cancer, found that those undertaking the equivalent of a brisk walk for one hour per day had half the risk of a cancer relapse compared to inactive people.

The results from the two studies in people with colorectal cancer support previous published work showing a reduction in risk of cancer recurrence with increased levels of physical activity in women with breast cancer.

What this all means is that physical activity after a cancer diagnosis may offer some benefits in improving survival from the disease. Because physical activity has few downsides, it is something that all cancer survivors should aim to include more of in their lives. For a person with cancer, undertaking a new ‘fitness regime’ is something that should be undertaken after appropriate advice from a health professional.

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